Nathan Greenaway collapsed at the English estate where he worked and was rushed to a hospital in September, where, for five days, doctors couldn't figure out what was wrong with the 33-year-old. He died on Sept. 7 of multiple organ failure, and at a pre-inquest hearing this week, a potential cause was heard.
Greenaway's father did hours of research into his son's death and believes the gardener must have brushed up against aconitum. The deadly flower, also known as Devil's helmet, monkshood, and wolfsbane, was indeed growing on the grounds of Millcourt House, a $6 million estate owned by a retired venture capitalist. A histopathologist testified at the hearing that the flower "more likely than not" caused Greenaway's death, though it's not clear why he may have come in contact with it.
If it's handled without gloves, the flower can cause vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, heart palpitations, and, in severe cases, paralysis of the heart and airways, the Telegraph reports. Others testified that the toxin would have caused massive damage to the gardener's internal organs within hours. But a lawyer for his employer isn't convinced, and one problem is that the blood sample taken when Greenaway was admitted to the hospital has been destroyed.
According to testimony, the plant's toxin wouldn't have been detectable in his blood in as little as 24 hours, making samples taken after his death potentially useless, the Independent reports. The BBC notes that aconitum poisoning is rare and typically happens when the plant is eaten; indeed, a Canadian actor died after accidentally eating the plant while camping in 2004.*
Obviously, this is a tragic occurrence. I grieve for this man who lost his child whom he obviously loved to so freakish an accident. One can certainly understand why this father was so driven to uncover the cause of his son’s death. Perhaps now, others might somehow be spared such an untimely and unnecessary death.**
Of course, this whole episode reminds me of another tragic occurrence involving death in some other garden. Genesis chapters 2 and 3 tell the story of how God, after having created Adam and Eve, placed them in the Garden of Eden. There, they were put in charge of the Garden “to work it and take care of it” (2:15). But, He also clearly commanded them (2:16-17), “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Sadly, chapter 3 records how Satan, in the form of the serpent, tempted Eve to violate this very commandment, which she promptly did. And when Eve offered Adam the forbidden fruit, he also violated God’s command. And with the violation of God’s command came the inevitable punishment, which God had previously declared to be death.
The apostle Paul tells us that, through this original sin, all of us, as descendants of Adam and Eve, have been tainted. Because of this, we all live under the same curse of death. How sad if that were the end of the story. But, praise God, there is more.
Here is a summary of the Apostle Paul’s message from his New Testament letter to the Romans, often referred to as the “Roman Road to Salvation”:
"As it is written: 'There is no one righteous, not even one…'" Romans 3:10 NIV
Paul is here quoting Psalm 14 from the Old Testament. He next tells us why no one is righteous.
"…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…" Romans 3:23 NIV
Elsewhere in the New Testament, Paul elaborates on the fact all of us have a sin nature. He contends that we are all sinners both by nature and by choice. That is to say, we are guilty of sin because of Adam’s digression. And even if not, even if we had somehow been born sinless, we ourselves would have soon sinned on our own.
So, if we are all in the same proverbial boat, if we are all sinners, then what is the big deal? He provides the answer.
"…the wages of sin is death…" Romans 6:23a NIV
He is not talking about physical death. He means spiritual death, or eternal separation from our Creator. The Bible elsewhere describes what this entails. Jesus in particular, but also the Apostle John describes the horrors of spending eternity apart from God, in a miserable place called Hell that was originally created, not for men and women, but for the Devil and those fallen angels who followed him in willful rebellion against God.
How sad it would be if men and women, because of their sinfulness, had no hope but to be condemned to hell for all eternity. Alas, however, the story does not end there. Paul next tells us…
"But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8 NIV
In his great love for us, God was willing to allow His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die on our behalf. This He did by allowing Himself to be crucified on an old rugged cross some two thousand years ago. Then, three days later, in order to prove He was God’s Son, Jesus Christ rose from the grave! In the process, He conquered sin, death, and Hell itself!
And because of this, He alone has the keys to eternal life and entrance into a place the bible calls Heaven. And He wants so much to take as many people as possible to that place.
The Apostle John put it this way (3:16-17): "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." And Jesus himself said (in John 10:10): "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." Thus, Paul next states:
"...but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord." Romans 6:23b NIV
And Paul then tells us how we can appropriate that gift of eternal life.
"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:13 NIV
In that same chapter, he says:
"That if you confess with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved." Romans 10:9-10 NIV
He tells us this because he wants us to understand clearly what he elsewhere says in his New Testament Letter to the Ephesians (2:8,9): “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Paul had seen innumerable people fool themselves into thinking that through the practice of religion or by living a good life, they could somehow be good enough to be good enough, righteous enough, to earn for themselves eternal life and a trip to Heaven. But Paul knew how foolish this was because he knew the depravity of the human heart.
And he knew that the only way the terrible curse of death could be removed, the only way our sin nature could be truly cleansed and one day eradicated was through the redemptive work of God’s Son and the gift of His grace afforded to us.
Thus, in his first New Testament Letter to the Corinthians (15:21-22), he joyously proclaimed , “For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
I do not know Mr. Greenaway. I may never meet him. But I am quite certain He would do everything in his power to restore life to his son. Alas, he cannot. Neither can you or me. But God can. And He did restore life to His only begotten Son. And because of this, all of us can have eternal life, spiritual life!
The Apostle Peter assures us that God does not desire for anyone to perish, but rather that all men might repent and be saved (2 Peter 3:9). Paul echoes this same sentiment in first New Testament Letter to Timothy (2:3-4), when he says: “…God our Savior … wants all people to be saved”.
In light of this, my friend, I hope you have embraced God’s Son, Jesus Christ. I hope you have been delivered from death and have found eternal life through Him. For, according to the Bible (1 John 5:12)… “Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
**NOTE: In fairness, the cause of death for the young man is still being debated. Some have contended that the symptoms described are classic for organophosphate poisoning (originating in substances used in herbicides and pesticides), thereby claiming that it is significantly more likely that the young man came into contact with these substances than with aconitum.